Looking Back

It occurs to me that there are several sorts of travelling. Immigration, for example, is a lot more than just moving to another place. The demolishing of normality makes for a bizarre internal journey. As I contemplate not writing about new places for a while, it might be amusing to look back at some of the odder aspects of settling in. We live here now, it wasn’t always thus. So, a few articles culled from work published by Emigrate magazine over the years. Just to get things going…

If these musings appeal you can find more tales of transatlantic confusion and fun at Immigration, The Eternal Language Barrier, Tradition Tradition, An Old Story, The Wizard of Oz and Cicadas and Alarums.

How complicated can it be? You pack up a few books and clothes, a box of toys and an antique grandmother clock. You pop a teenager under your arm, leave London, England behind and cross the Atlantic. You then buy a big house full of stuff and run a B&B. Why? You fancy to live in Canada because it’s nice. Canadian Immigration demand that you buy a business, so you do. Dead easy, why doesn’t everyone emigrate?

I honestly thought the anxiety was over the day we moved in. The years of planning, paperwork, legal battles and interviews were behind us. I had permission to enter Canada as an Entrepreneur and two years to prove myself a competent business person. The fabulous B&B I’d agreed to purchase at the start of the application process was still sitting waiting for us two years down the line, the future looked assured. All I had to do was arrange a modest loan, buy a car, move into my palatial new home and sit back to watch the money roll in. Oh, yes and cook the occasional rasher of bacon.

I began to realise that all might not be plain sailing during the car hunt. In the UK one buys the car first, then insures it and – if necessary – learns to drive it. Having to pass an Ontario driving test before I could insure a car, and having to insure it before I could buy it, was an unexpectedly irritating extra hoop to jump through. ‘Piece of cake though’ I thought. ‘I’ve driven ambulances in London, limousines in Toronto and nurtured nervous young ladies through their driving tests in leafy suburbs. I’m as good as through.’

With commendable caution I decided to leave nothing to chance and booked myself a driving lesson. Shame really, it would almost have been worth failing the test to see the examiner’s face when I inadvertently treated him to a British emergency stop. I can now report that when a Canadian examiner asks you to stop as if in an emergency he has a very different scenario in mind. None of your imagining a child has run into the road at your minimum stopping distance while he braces himself against hitting the windscreen. A Canadian examiner wishes you to pretend you hear a strange noise emanating from the bowels of your car and execute an unanticipated but politely signalled stop at the side of the road. Much is made of which way you will turn the wheels depending on the incline of the road. Canadians like their emergencies relatively polite.

That was the start of the training. Thanks to a patient lawyer and a string of accountants I acquired my B&B. It was as gorgeous as I’d remembered but came equipped with a terrifying array of toys; machinery to do things that Brits didn’t know needed doing. I had a toy to soften the water, another to filter it. A toy to turn the baths into Jacuzzis, a toy to make ice and a toy to squash my rubbish. The only thing that didn’t have an on/off switch was the septic tank. Septic tank? I hadn’t anticipated one of those, do they go wrong? Is it smelly when they do? Who do you call? (Poo busters?) I rapidly learned what each and every snazzy part of my fabulous new life cost to repair when it went wrong. And do you know what? It’s all a bit overrated in my opinion. Despite the premium rates chargeable by pretentious B&B’s with knobs and whistles, on the days when I was contorted at an impossible angle on the kitchen floor with my rapidly numbing hand up the freezer workings trying to dislodge a blockage from the ice-making machine, I recall wistfully that it wasn’t so hard…all that filling up of ice trays in the benighted, technologically innocent UK days.

In addition, I can now report that a swimming pool requires a chemistry degree plus more attention than a baby and that having a ride-on lawn tractor is totally terrifying. During the owner-of-half-an-acre years, I ripped several spotlights out of the ground, mowed down the barbecue and demolished the pond. Twice. Ben it was, however, who parked the mower in the constantly rebuilt pond on the day of its final demise. Somehow that ended up my fault too. I found out what could go wrong with a septic tank, where to find the ‘septic people’, how to trouble-shoot air conditioning and correct recalcitrant hot tub chemistry. I became almost competent with transatlantic toys. But I turned into Basil Fawlty in the process. There is more to the industry than bacon frying. All that having of strangers in your face before coffee in the morning takes its toll. It had to stop and five years on it did. The tales are on the verge of becoming funny again. Even the bit about Ontario dropping the driving test nonsense for immigrants a year after we landed.

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